Govt once again tries to ditch the incoming passenger card

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Govt once again tries to ditch the incoming passenger card

And overhaul visa applications.

The federal government will take another swing at digitising the paper-based incoming passenger card for international travellers, more than three years after its last attempt.

It will also develop a “simple digital visa product” after dumping its controversial billion-dollar plan to outsource Australia’s visa processing platform earlier this year.

Both products will be developed as test cases as part of a new government-wide digital platform for permission-based services such as permits, registrations and licenses.

The permissions capability platform is the result of the government’s new policy approach around the “acquisition and delivery of workflow processing”.

The approach was adopted when the visa platform outsourcing was scuttled, but not before the Department of Home Affairs had spent $92 million on the procurement.

In an industry information paper released over the weekend, the government said the permission capability will underpin the “modernisation of visa and citizenship service delivery”.

However it will also be used for “other similar permission-based services” across government in the future, and unlike the former approach, will be “publicly funded and operated”.

“Relevant government agencies will at all times retain control of, and responsibility and accountability for, process design and implementation as well as all decision making,” it said.

“All data will be handled in accordance with relevant laws in relation to privacy in particular, and store onshore in Australia.”

The government is planning to tender for the platform’s base functionality - which will be used to deliver the two “initial simple use cases” before October 2021 - later this month.

Base capabilities include all “customer-facing functions necessary to deliver the initial use cases”, as well as supporting functions like security, storage and case management.

At budget estimates on Monday, Home Affairs revealed just under $75 million has been provided in 2020-21 to progess the platform.

“More complex use cases”, including Commonwealth security accreditation, import and export permits and more complex visas, are expected to follow in the future.

The first use case is the digitisation of incoming passenger cards, something that Home Affairs previously attempted in 2017 as part of its 'seamless traveller' initiative.

In much the same way as 2017, the paper-based process will be replaced with a digital passenger declaration (DPD) that passengers can complete on their own mobile device.

Home Affairs expects the DPD will allow it to collect and verify information relating to a passenger’s customs and quarantine status for more than 40 million passengers each year.

However it is also being pitched as a way for public health authorities to collect and verify Covid vaccination certificates digitally when international travel eventually resumes.

“The DPD will be a critical enabler of Australia’s border operations while recovering from, and reacting to, the ongoing Covid-19 threat to public health,” the information paper states.

“It will deliver an integrated and streamlined application experience that facilitates international travel, and ensures relevant Commonwealth and state and territory agencies have the necessary information, verified in digital form, to support the public health response.”

The second use case is the simple digital visa product, which will include “an easy to use digital application”, to test the integration capabilities of the permissions capability platform.

“Together, these initial use cases will prove the efficacy and utility of the capability, while at the same time supporting the reopening of Australia’s borders through Covid-19 safe resumption of international travel,” the paper states.

The permissions capability will tap into existing government-wide capabilities such as the myGovID digital identity credential, myGov and Notify “where appropriate”. 

Acting minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs Alan Tudge said the capability would help ensure Australia can “successfully reopen our borders”. 

“On top of that, it will significantly streamline our national response to Covid-19 and our contact tracing capabilities by speeding up information collection and processing,” he added.

Government services minister Stuart Robert said the build/buy once, reuse many times approach to the “foundational platform” would “reduce duplication of ICT investment”.

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